Battle for IS ‘Capital’ Raqqa Begins

Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces in Raqqa, Syria, on May 18Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces in Raqqa, Syria, on May 18

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces said on Tuesday it had begun a battle to capture Raqqa, the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group’s de facto capital in Syria, launching attacks from the east, west and north of the city.

In a phone interview with Reuters from Syria, SDF Spokesman Talal Silo said the operation started on Monday and the fighting would be “fierce because IS will die to defend their so-called capital”, France24 reported.

The IS terrorists captured the city in 2014. The assault on Raqqa will pile more pressure on the IS’s self-declared “caliphate” with the group facing defeat in the Iraqi city of Mosul and being forced into retreat across much of Syria.

“The coalition has a big role in the success of the operations. In addition to warplanes, there are coalition forces working side by side with the Syrian Democratic Forces,” Silo said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based organization that reports on the war, earlier said SDF attacked the eastern edge of Raqqa and a military base on the northern outskirts of the city on Tuesday.

The Kurdish YPG, part of the SDF, had told Reuters on Saturday that the assault on Raqqa was expected to start in a few days.

“It started today at dawn,” observatory director, Rami Abdulrahman, said. “They have reached the city but they have not entered any of its buildings.”

The attack on Al-Mashlab District and on the Division 17 base around 1 km to the north of the city center followed heavy overnight airstrikes, the observatory said.

The SDF has been working to encircle Raqqa since November in an offensive backed by the US-led coalition.

The US-led coalition has said 3,000 to 4,000 IS fighters are thought to be holed up in Raqqa city, where they have erected defenses against the anticipated assault. The city is about 90 km from the border with Turkey.

The United States said on Tuesday it had started distributing arms to YPG to help take Raqqa, part of a plan that has angered NATO-ally Turkey, which is worried about growing Kurdish influence in northern Syria.


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